Climate Dynamics

, Volume 47, Issue 11, pp 3415–3431 | Cite as

Decadal prediction of Sahel rainfall using dynamics-based indices

  • Noelia OteroEmail author
  • Elsa Mohino
  • Marco Gaetani


At decadal time scales, the capability of state-of-the-art atmosphere-ocean coupled climate models in predicting the precipitation in Sahel is assessed. A set of 14 models participating in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) is selected and two experiments are analysed, namely initialized decadal hindcasts and forced historical simulations. Considering the strong linkage of the atmospheric circulation signatures over West Africa with the rainfall variability, this study aims to investigate the potential of using wind fields for decadal predictions. Namely, a West African monsoon index (WAMI) is defined, based on the coherence of low (925 hPa) and high (200 hPa) troposphere wind fields, which accounts for the intensity of the monsoonal circulation. A combined empirical orthogonal functions analysis is applied to explore the wind fields’ covariance modes, and a set of indices is defined on the basis of the identified patterns. The WAMI predictive skill is assessed by comparing WAMI from coupled models with WAMI from reanalysis products and with a standardized precipitation index (SPI) from observations. Results suggest that the predictive skill is highly model dependent and it is strongly related to the WAMI definition. In addition, hindcasts are more skilful than historical simulations in both deterministic and probability forecasts, which suggests an added value of initialization for decadal predictability. Moreover, coupled models are more skilful in predicting the observed SPI than the WAMI obtained from reanalysis. WAMI performance is also compared with decadal predictions from CMIP5 models based on a Sahelian precipitation index, and an improvement in predictive skill is observed in some models when WAMI is used. Therefore, we conclude that dynamics-based indices are potentially more effective for decadal prediction of precipitation in Sahel than precipitation-based indices for those models in which Sahel rainfall variability is not well simulated. We thus recommend a two-fold approach when testing the performance of models in predicting Sahel rainfall, based not only on rainfall but also on the dynamics of the West African monsoon.


Standardize Precipitation Index Anomaly Correlation Coefficient ERA40 Reanalysis Decadal Time Scale West African Monsoon 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank the two anonymous reviewers for the comments and suggestions, which helped us improve the manuscript. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under Grant Agreement No. 603521 and the Spanish Project CGL2012-38923-C02-01. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Program’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the U.S. Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

Supplementary material

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS)PostdamGermany
  2. 2.Dpto. Física de la Tierra, Astronomía y Astrofísica IUniversidad Complutense de MadridMadridSpain
  3. 3.LATMOS-IPSL, CNRS, Sorbonne Universites, UPMC and UVSQParisFrance

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